By Carissa Hahn
Saint Mary’s University (SMU) has been celebrating El Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) during the month of November through a memorial created in the Saint Thomas More Chapel.
Graduate Assistant for SMU Office of Campus Ministry Keith Donovan said that the main purpose of this holiday is to remember and pray for our loved ones who have passed away and honor them for leaving a lasting impression on us.
The memorial consists of an altar with memorabilia that community members have shared to honor loved ones who have passed, said Donovan. At the center of the table lies a prayer book called “The Book of the Dead,” where people are invited to write the names of their departed loved ones.
Donovan said that the Office of Campus Ministry also held a prayer service on Nov. 2 near the memorial. Community members who were present shared stories of the loved ones that they were remembering, said Donovan. Over a dozen people attended the prayer service.
Lorelle Brune, SMU student and active member of Campus Ministry, read at the prayer service. Brune said the altar also consists of pictures, incense, candles and other artifacts in remembrance of loved ones who have passed.
El Día de los Muertos is a Hispanic holiday. The traditions of acknowledging the dead and the spiritual world at this time of year dates back to ancient times, said Donovan.
The first was held thousands of years ago when Pagans and Celts celebrated the feast of Samhain. Samhain represented the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. People believed that the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was at its thinnest during this time. In order to remember the dead on the night that falls halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice, they would use prayer and ritual. The American term “Halloween” comes from contractions of “All Hallows Eve” or “the holy evening.”
Each year, the Catholic Church recognizes Nov. 1 as All Saints Day and Nov. 2 as All Souls Day. Donovan said, “The Church uses the month of November to continue to remember those who have gone before us.” This tradition is sometimes referred to as “Novembering.”
“I think people wanted to celebrate Day of the Dead because it is a Hispanic tradition, and at SMU there seems to be some intentionality to involve students of different cultural backgrounds,” said Brune. “It was a way to unite both our Catholic identity, and our multicultural campus community.”